About a year ago I decided that I would no longer content myself with a guitar “off the rack.” Instead, I would start a new project for which I was remarkably unqualified: to design and build my own guitar.
Although I had always thought of myself as a mid-century modern sort of guy, for some reason I wanted this guitar to look like it was made at the turn of the century. I think maybe I acquired this fetish for dark wood and tarnished brass from living in (and attempting to restore) an old house. I wanted my guitar to be like that—modern and electrified, but vaguely Victorian. Like a collaboration between Thomas Edison and Les Paul.
Very soon in the process I realized that I was not equipped with the tools or the know-how to pull this off. I would need help. Back in April of 2007 I found a guitar builder online who had guitars on his web site—a lot of which had features that I had actually written down in my initial wish list: exposed pickups that looked like transformers, knobs and switches on the top (rather than the front), brass corner protectors (which I ultimately decided against). This guitar builder was Ted Crocker, about whom I’ve written before on the box vox. It was he who ultimately constructed this guitar for me. (Although I did handle the carpentry on the headstock myself…)
For the past 10 months any amount of musical spare time I might have had, has instead been devoted making “actual size” guitar mechanicals in Illustrator and trolling eBay for brass guitar parts.
One neighbor, who works for DiMarzio here on Staten Island, helped me find a source for brass plating.
I designed & built a mechanical “string damper” since I love the “palm mute” sound but do not seem be a good enough guitar player to achieve it via the traditional technique. (The blue material is a scrubby pad.)
Along the way I encountered some sub-cultures I was not aware of going into this.
Many years ago I used to work at Christie’s auction house where I learned about the importance of patina and provenance in the valuation of antiques. But on eBay there are enterprising artisans who will happily charge you a premium for gear they’ve scuffed up for you. (Sort of like pre-washed denim, I suppose.) I’m ambivalent about relic-ing. I know my guitar would be more important if Thomas Edison had really made it, but—like plenty of other good stuff—it’s inherently fake. And I’m OK with that.
Likewise, I had no idea about Steampunk—that there were all these busy people making stuff look as if it were made 100 years ago. (Among my favorites of this sort of thing is Mike Yager’s spectacles .) The downside of this trend is that too much of it looks like fanciful props for a science fiction movie. (Too many decorative brass gears that don’t really turn anything.) Still, I love the idea that there’s a groundswell movement of new people appreciating how cool old stuff is, ’cause I’m thinking, “hey, I’m old…”
Oh yeah, Ted insisted that we give the thing a name, hence: Edison Volt. Now the Volt is finished and I’m pretty jazzed about it. It sounds really good and I’ve officially reclaimed my musical spare time. (Anyone out there with special guitar needs should just go ahead and contact Ted directly.)